Friday, 29 August 2014

Silk in the Bronze Age Aegean

I've finally got an excuse to make one of these:

Veiled virgin:73 x 100 = 300 euro
Picture of a girl wearing a veil from Akrotini, image found here.

The question is, what was it made of?  Scholars usually interpret the orange dots as carnelian beads, but the fabric is something of a mystery.  It's a lot finer than any linen I've ever seen.  In fact it's so fine and transparent that it looks like silk to me, and I'm not the only one who thinks that.  Scholars like Elizabeth Barber and Marie-Loise Nosch suggest that although wool and linen were the most common fibers in the Bronze Age Aegean, silk may also have been used.

There is evidence of silkworms on Santorini from the middle of the second millennium BCE (see Panagiotakopul et al, 1997, A lepidopterous cocoon from Thera and evidence for silk in the Aegean Bronze Age).  Insects resembling silk moths are common in late Bronze Age Aegean iconography, though we don't know for sure if they are meant to be silk moths or, if so, whether the images have anything to do with textile production.  Linear B text evidence is inconclusive; Panagiotakopul et al discussed some Linear B fragments that may refer to silk, but equally they may refer to linen.

Certainly there is no reason to think silk moths couldn't have survived in the Aegean.  Prior to the Thera eruption Santorini did have the right kind of climate and vegetation for cultivating silkworms and/or harvesting wild silk (Asouti, E., 2003, Wood charcoal from Santorini (Thera): new evidence for climate, vegetation and timber imports in the Aegean Bronze Age).

Further east, Cyprus had a highly sophisticated textile industry and was producing wild silk as early as 2000BCE, along with a range of other fibers including cotton and hemp - you can see photos here.  Cyprus was very definitely part of the Minoan and Mycenaean trade networks.  So was Egypt, and there is evidence that silk was used in Egypt from around 1000BCE.  The evidence from Cyprus and Egypt is particularly interesting to me because it consists of actual fibers, and this is always the major problem when researching Aegean textiles.  Unlike Egypt, the Aegean has what are probably some of the worst conditions in the world for textile preservation and there are no surviving textile fragments from Minoan or Mycenaean settlements.

In summary, it looks as if wild silk was available in the Bronze Age Aegean.  However, it's not clear how widely available silk was, who was using it, and whether it was being produced commercially in Greece.  It would certainly have been a luxury product, and would have been less common than linen and wool, but it's not unreasonable to conclude that pictures like the veiled girl may represent garments made of silk.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Mongolian mystery hat

[UPDATE] Many thanks to Jeanette Murray from the Historical Sew Fortnightly Facebook group, who informed me this style of hat is known as a toortsog!

My hat

// Mongolian Hat. National Museum ofCopenhagen. Denmark
The original hat as shown on Pinterest

I saw the original hat on Pinterest.  It was tagged as 16th century and said to be in the Copenhagen Museum, but I haven’t been able to find it on their website.  Still, I’m pretty sure it is pre-1945 and therefore fair game for the Historical Sew Fortnightly, and I don’t have any doubts that it comes from somewhere in Central Asia.  I’ve seen similar looking Mongolian hats in pictures going back to the 14th century - see here or here, for example, or here.

This is my entry for HSF challenge 15: The Great Outdoors, because you don’t get much more “great outdoorsy” than Mongolia.

Despite having only one unreferenced photo to go on, I reckoned I could recreate the hat anyway.  It appears to involve six triangular panels that are rounded at the bottom.  These are sewn up into a cone, and then the lower edge of said cone is folded back to create the brim.  The grain of the fur looks like it goes toward the point of the cone, and it seems to sit better on the head that way, so that’s how I cut the fur.  The fur comes from an old coat which I suspect is made from rabbit pretending to be mink.  It was badly damaged (and therefore cheap) but a lot of the fur is still usable.

I chose not to copy the cloud pattern on the original hat because I didn't find any appropriate gold braid, and I can always add a cloud pattern later if I find the right braid.  There are plenty of Mongol Period pictures showing hats without cloud patterns, so it can't have been mandatory.

This is the pattern I drafted.

The knot on top of my hat is hemp cord, wrapped with silk fabric.  I very much doubt this is a period construction technique, but it looks better than synthetic cord on an obviously silk hat.  Hemp cord was available in Central Asia from the Neolithic; hemp has a long history of cultivation in this region, where it was used for both textile manufacture and medicine.

HSF Challenge: The Great Outdoors

Fabric: 0.4 meters of blue/green shot silk and a small amount of fur.

Pattern: Drafted myself based on the picture.

Year: Probably anywhere from the 14th century up to today, which is a very impressive cultural tradition when you think about it.

Notions: Silk thread; Turk's head knot made from silk-wrapped hemp cord.

How historically accurate is it?  I must stress here that this is a speculative reconstruction.  I haven’t seen this hat or one like it in person, so I don’t know if this is really how the hat was made.  I don’t know for sure what materials it was made from, though I’d say silk is the most likely fabric and rabbit fur should be plausible. 

However, the silk is *ahem* dupioni.  I know.  I like the colour, and it isn't too slubby, and I needed relatively stiff fabric.  I remember hearing, though I forget where, that shot silk was being produced in China from a very early date, so I think the colour is okay.

Hours to complete: Four or five, not counting research time.

First worn: Quite often for fitting and testing the pattern.

Total cost: Probably about $18.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Hannah Glasse's chocolate pie

Years ago I saw the Two Fat Ladies do a version of this and thought it looked tasty, but never got around to making it.  Well, this week I decided to look out the original 18th century recipe.  It's actually two recipes.  The almond pastry ("Pafte for a Crackling Cruft") comes from The Art of Cookery, while the chocolate filling is from The Complete Confectioner.

First up, pastry.  I bought my almonds pre-ground and couldn't find orange flower water, so I just mixed egg white and almonds and hoped for the best.  I baked the crust for half an hour at 140 degrees C, and to my surprise it was very successful.   I have to admit I was skeptical about the almond/egg white crust at first and I thought it might be a disaster.  I didn't even try to roll out the crust, just pressed it directly into the pie tin.  Your mileage may vary, but if your almond pastry is anything like mine it will not roll out easily.

I did follow the recipe for the chocolate filling,  although I halved the ingredient quantities due to the size of my pie.   The recipe calls for "some" chocolate, and while I didn't actually measure it I'd guess I used 100 grams or so.  Based on advice from Savoring the Past, I baked the pie for 40 minutes at 170 degrees C and refrigerated it overnight.

The Challenge: Pies

The Recipe: Hannah Glasse's "Paste for a Crackling Crust" from The Art of Cookery and "A Chocolate Tart Another Way" from The Complete Confectioner.

The Date/Year and Region: 1800 or thereabouts.

How Did You Make It: As described in this post.

Time to complete: Around 2 1/2 hours, excluding refrigeration time.

Total Cost: Probably about $10 out of pocket.

How Successful Was It? I would happily serve this pie up at a dinner party.  It's a good pie!

How Accurate Is It?  As I said, I made some compromises with the pastry, and of course Hannah Glasse didn't use electric ovens or fridges.  The chocolate I used is Whittakers' Dark Ghana, and I have no idea how it compares to 18th century chocolate.  It's a bittersweet chocolate with 72% cocoa, and it did work well in this recipe.  Otherwise, I think the dish is fairly accurate.